This Doctor’s Promising SIDS Research Has Us Crossing Our Fingers For A Cure

baby-sleeping-stuffed-animalEvery parent has a story about placing a hand on their baby’s chest, holding an ear to their mouth, or sticking a mirror underneath their tiny nose to make sure they’re still breathing. The fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) plagues parents and despite ever-changing safety recommendations, 4,000 babies still lose their lives to it every year. SIDS remains a mystery to the medical community, but according to Yahoo Parenting, a Seattle doctor is working on promising new research that could not only identify a cause, but also give us a way to prevent it.

Daniel Rubens, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is currently raising funds to explore his hypothesis that SIDS is caused by undetected damage to the inner ear.

Rubens hypothesizes that the portion of the inner ear that controls balance and movement is dysfunctional in babies who die of SIDS. And for whatever reason, when these babies experience a build up of carbon dioxide and a lack of oxygen (which, for example, can occur with the common cold), they lack the ability to rouse themselves awake and escape the effects of the deadly gases.

Rubens developed his hypothesis based on Rhode Island Department of Health research that found babies who died of SIDS all had consistent inner ear damage. He has already been researching his theory for a decade and he’s had some promising results. In his studies, he damaged the inner ears of mice, put them under a light anesthetic, and exposed them to a mixture of gases similar to the one SIDS victims are thought to experience. He found the mice with inner ear damage were difficult or impossible to wake up.

The next step for Rubens is a large-scale study that would include 100 cases of babies who died of SIDS compared with healthy babies and, if successful, could be used to adapt the current newborn hearing screening to help prevent SIDS from birth. The Seattle Times reports Rubens had a fundraiser a few weeks ago that raised about $20,000, but he’ll need at least $100,000 to hire a research assistant and get his project off the ground.

Plenty of experts have theorized possible causes of and ways to prevent SIDS over the years and people have listened in earnest. If you look on any parenting messaging board, you can find people arguing about blankets and bedding, co-sleeping, bed-sharing, and even a few crazies who think SIDS is caused by vaccines. It’s an ongoing battle because we’re all just terrified and trying to protect our babies. The possibility that we could nail down a real cause and prevent those losses is incredible.

Rubens is far from the first doctor to research SIDS, but his work seems truly promising and would be a huge breakthrough for both families and the medical community. There are a million things parents have to worry about. Losing a baby to SIDS shouldn’t have to be one of them.

Doctor Rubens’ group, The SIDS Research Guild, and a link to donate can be found here.

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